Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (28 October) . . Page.. 2331 ..
MR CORBELL (continuing):
When it comes down to it, the issue here is whether or not this Assembly should support a concern in the community that an important community facility should remain open - not remain open just because a few people want it but because there is a demonstrated need for it in the community that it serves. That is the decision that this Assembly needs to make today. I will be very disappointed if a majority of members in this place do not accept that the community's needs do deserve to be recognised and that Downer Preschool should remain open.
MS TUCKER (11.25): I will certainly be supporting this motion from Mr Berry. I am very concerned about the process as it has occurred. As members are well aware, the Education Committee looked at preschool services in the ACT, and we came out with a report which basically was well received by the community and, I thought, by the Government. Strong basic issues came out through that inquiry process. The ACT community does value its preschool service, acknowledges that it is of a high quality and acknowledges that it has a function broader than just an educative function. It is a very important facility for the community, for community development and for families.
In the Education Committee we said that we were unhappy with the way the decisions have to be made at the end of each year; that there was no long-term plan in place; that there are changing demographics in the ACT; and that decisions are going to have to be made in the long term. We asked in the first recommendation that there be a long-term plan for the provision of government-funded preschool education within the context of early childhood services by the year 2000 and said there must be no major changes until this has happened. We also stated that this work must be done in consultation with the community.
After the initial response from Mr Stefaniak, in which he said he was generally in support of the committee's report, we were a little bit disturbed when at one point he was thought to have said that closures may be part of normal annual adjustments. That was a surprise to us, a surprise to the preschool society and a surprise to the community, because it would have been regarded by those groups as a major change and not in the spirit of the recommendation of our committee at all.
Mr Stefaniak said that we only needed to check the record to see that everyone was pretty happy with the Government's response to the committee's report. As I have just explained, they were, but with a certain caution. That caution was: What is happening to Downer Preschool and why is that happening? I immediately asked why it was being suspended and asked for further figures and for elaboration and explanation of that fact. It is not correct to say that no-one was too worried about that. We were concerned straightaway.
We were also very unhappy with the way the Downer community were informed about this decision. It was incredibly rude, to put it mildly, to find out through the media that your local preschool was going to close. There are other very worrying issues about the closure. Mr Stefaniak points out that the Government are calling it a suspension only. However, as members have already articulated in this debate, there is grave concern that a suspension will not lead to anything other than a closure, because the community will not be aware of the status of that preschool. I think we are deluding ourselves if we think that because we here understand very clearly exactly what is going on in these processes